Ulysses by James Joyce: Chapter 4 and 5

Chapters 4 and 5 introduce us to the other main character of the novel, Leopold Bloom, modeled on Odysseus (aka Ulysses). The first chapter has Leopold Bloom leave his house to purchase a pork kidney for his breakfast. In the store he ogles a woman he finds attractive. Then he returns home to prepare breakfast for himself and his wife. A letter arrives addressed to his wife from a man; it is implied that Leopold suspects there is an adulterous relationship or someone is trying to seduce her. Molly is an Opera singer. He serves his wife in bed and questions her about the letter, but she tells him it is just a song from the new piece they want her to sing.   Leopold reads a letter addressed from their daughter who also talks about a seductive musical man in her school. Leopold thinks about his dead son. They keep speaking about an upcoming funeral that Leopold plans to attend of some man who died.

In the next chapter, Leopold is wandering the streets of Dublin. He talks to various people about the upcoming funeral, attends a church service, and decides to visit a bathhouse. Along the way, he recalls his father’s disappointment of his abandoning Judaism.

Even though he occupies the role of Odysseus, there are huge differences between Leopold Bloom and the epic hero. The main threat for Leopold is that his wife Molly may be having or about to engage in an adulterous affair, thus recalling the suitors trying to woo Penelope. Leopold seems to be aware this is happening, but remains powerless to deal with it.

In the first chapter, patterned on the episode where Odysseus is held captive by Calypso the nymph, Molly, his wife, occupies both the role of Penelope and Calypso. We get the sense that Leopold adores his wife or at least is under her dominion, carefully taking the time to make sure her breakfast is perfect, serving her in bed, and even delivering the letter of her potential adulterous lover to her (all the while suspecting the true nature of this letter). Leopold describes a painting of a nymph that hangs over their bed, which he purchased and reminds him his wife, thus emphasizing this connection with Calypso. Whereas, in the epic, this scene shows how blissful enjoyment can lead one to forget their sense of duty and the necessity of returning home, Leopold’s situation is an ironic twist of this as his sense of duty and loyalty to Molly is part of her domination of him and a hindrance to his happiness as it allows her to take advantage of him.

The second chapter is patterned on the episode with the Lotus Eaters in which Odysseus’s men abandon the journey home to spend their days in blissful ignorance and forgetfulness after eating lotus plants. In this chapter, Bloom wanders London looking for distractions to escape the problems of the real world, particularly the memory of his dead son, the possibility that his wife is having an affair, and the guilt he feels about his father’s disappointment over abandoning Judaism. He tries to live vicariously and escape his problems through distractions and physical pleasures, but his problems keep returning into his mind, despite trying to distract himself.

These chapters are heavily focused on physical sensations, whereas the earlier chapters of Stephen Dedalus were heavily peppered with elusive intellectual references. Joyce creates a contrast between the physical realm and intellectual realm with these two characters, although they both face usurpers (suitors) who threaten the dreams they have for themselves.  They are both haunted by their parents (for abandoning their religion): Leopold by his father for abandoning Judaism and Stephen by his mother for not praying for her in proper Catholic manner (due to his atheism?). In the Leopold Bloom chapters this physicality is emphasized in many ways; he goes on about the smells of various things, different types of meats he enjoys eating, ogles many different women on his journeys through the streets, and chapter 4 even ends with a paragraph about the joy he gets by being able to go to the bathroom (number 2)! This last part certainly shows that Joyce is willing to write about topics from which most writers would balk; can you imagine Jane Austen writing about Elizabeth Bennett doing her daily business? This isn’t just a motif for the sake of contrast, however, but tells us something important about each character. Leopold Bloom takes enjoyment in the physical, which explains why Molly’s potential adultery bothers him.

The character is ethnically Jewish, but not religiously so. The fact that he eats a pork kidney suggests he doesn’t keep kosher and is violating one of the most sacred identifying factors of Jews. In Chapter 5, we get the sense that his father was disappointed by his abandonment of his Judaism. Much like Stephen’s story up to this point, these thoughts also point to the problem of never being able to escape our pasts.

The chapter ends with the physical image of Leopold Bloom imagining himself enjoying a bath in his attempt to forget all his troubles:

“He foresaw his pale body reclined in it at full, naked, in a womb of warmth, oiled by scented melting soup, softly laved. He saw his trunk and limbs riprippled over and sustained, buoyed lightly upward, lemonyellow: his navel, buds of flesh: and saw the dark tangled curls of his bush floating, floating hair of the stream around the limp father of thousands, a languid floating flower (86).”

These words capture well the physicality of Leopold Bloom’s chapters. The final image referencing his genital also alludes to the Biblical language of G-d’s promise to Abraham will be the father of nations. His limp genital is a symbol of his impotence to stop his wife from having an affair and making him a cuckold, the allusion to G-d’s promise to Abraham is tragically ironic because far from producing a multitude of heirs, the one son he did produce died, and the Biblical language borrowed from the Patriarchal father of Judaism suggests that he can’t escape his Jewish identity either.  By thinking about this in relation to his bath (a physical pleasure that is supposed to help him escape the world full of problems), the symbol reiterates that we can never really escape our problems, but they follow us everywhere.

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